Rethink Marketing Podcast: On-Demand B2B Content Marketing

Wouldn’t you love to have a Netflix-like experience when you’re engaging with a B2B company’s content? That sort of on-demand, pick-up-where-you-left-off, because-you-watched-this experience is missing in our B2B content markting, says Elle Woulfe. She wants to change that.

Woulfe, vice president of marketing at PathFactory, was recently on the Rethink Marketing podcast, where she talked about how the on-demand B2C economy is changing B2B marketing.

On-demand, real-time content and purchasing experiences are the norm for consumers in their B2C lives, she said. But B2B organizations continue to struggle to meet the needs of their buyers who bring those expectations to work with them every day.

I began our interview asking about her background and about PathFactory.

Elle: I head up marketing here at PathFactory. my background’s pretty much in demand gen. I’ve spent my career mostly in marketing tech. I was at Eloqua on the demand gen team for a couple years before they were acquired by Oracle. Then I went … actually followed my CMO over to Lattice Engines in the predictive analytics space, also in MarTech. Built up the demand gen team over there before I came over here to PathFactory. I am a New England native, grew up in Southern Rhode Island and live about 40 miles north of Boston now. Went to Northeastern University and studied English and religious studies, very relevant to marketing technology.

PathFactory is a content insight and activation company. We’re really focused on helping marketers make their marketing function more on demand. Our buyers today bring these expectations from their B2B lives with them into their B2B buying experiences where they really want things to function on demand, to be responsive and curated and to be easy and quick. We help B2B marketers to deliver those types of experiences and help buyers move through content in those kinds of curated and responsive ways.

Picture of Elle Woulfe for the Rethink Marketing podcast where she talks about how the on-demand B2C economy is changing B2B marketing

What is the differences and similarities between Content Marketing and Demand Generation?

Nathan: You mentioned you being a demand gen marketer. I’m a content marketer. From your perspective, what’s the difference between the roles, how are they the same, where’s the overlap, how they work together?

Elle: It’s funny you should say it. I have recently made a big change on my team and I broke with convention and I actually created an integrated marketing role. I don’t even have a demand gen role on my team anymore. I actually had my head of content marketing, my director of content marketing, put her in charge of demand gen. I still have someone who runs marketing programs, a program marketer.

But, it made no sense to me to have demand gen kind of making orders, right? They were kind of going into content saying, ‘Hey, we need this type of content for this program over here.’ … It was like, well, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Why don’t I just have content marketing sort of run demand gen?

We created integrated marketing role where it’s basically demand gen that’s headed up by content marketing. I think these two things are inexplicably intertwined. At the top of the funnel, you’re really delivering content as a way to get your buyer interested and educated and move them through the early stages of the buying process.

And at the heart of good demand gen is content.

I decided to come at it in a different way. Sure, it still is about programs and channels and data and segmentation and analytics, all those things are important and when you think about demand gen. But content’s at the heart of everything that we do in demand generation and so, I think these two things just … there’s so much overlap that we decided to come at it in an entirely different way and so far it’s working really well because we no longer have this kind of push and pull between demand gen and content. It’s really now just kind of one and the same.

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How has the On-Demand B2C Economy Changed B2B Marketing?

Nathan: When you were telling us about PathFactory, you were talking about this shift of the buyer and how they’re bringing their B2C lives to their B2B marketing expectations. Can you talk about that more?

Elle: I think probably the best example is Netflix. I’m a mom of two small kids. I don’t get a lot of time to watch TV anymore. And so, when I do have that hour, two hours maybe, to sit down and watch a little TV, I don’t have time to scroll through every single program that’s on the guide to try to find the thing I want to watch, right?

Today when you log into Netflix, you’re delivered a set of really curated content options, a set of programming that’s designed specifically for you. And they’re surfacing content to you that you may not know exists. The way that Netflix is able to do that is they know everything about what you’ve watched in the past. They know the directors you like, the actors you like, the programs you’ve watched multiple times, the things you’ve binged on in the past. They use all that data to inform the recommendations they make to you about what programs you should the next time you log in.

And that saves you time. It makes it easy for you to dive right in to the content that you want to watch next. That’s much easier than scrolling through the guide and spending that, God, you know, that one hour that you have looking for the program that you might be interested in watching.

That’s an example of how our expectations have changed. It’s the same when we shop on Amazon. We don’t walk through the mall anymore searching for stuff. We go to Amazon and they’re making recommendations based on the last thing we bought, about what we might be interested in purchasing next. So, as consumers, our expectations that things will be curated and hyper-personalized, that it will be responsive to our needs, that it will pick us up where we left off, and unfortunately in B2B, we haven’t quite caught up to that.

The B2B buying process tends to be far less curated and personalized. We have a hard time picking someone up where they left off. Even with the advances that we’ve made in things like personalization and ABM, we haven’t quite got to the place where we’re able to deliver an experience to the buyer that is really responsive and convenient and hyper-personalized and easy for them. It leaves that buyer wandering around, trying to find that next best piece of content, looking for the thing that is going to help them advance in the buying process. Buyers bring with them these expectations of how they want it to feel and we as marketers have struggled to deliver the experience that they’re looking for.

What is stopping us from delivering On-Demand B2B Marketing?

Nathan: Has that been because sort of a philosophy sort of point of view, or is it a technology sort of … that held us back as B2B marketers? And now that technology’s changing, machine learning, AI, all that, that we’re now able to do that better.

Elle: Yeah, I think it’s mostly that. I mean, again, you know I kind of came out of the marketing automation movement and I think back in the early days of marketing automation when Eloqua was talking about digital body language back in the early days, that stuff was revolutionary. The fact that we could track what our buyer was doing when they came to our website or when they click through on our email. That was a big deal, right? And it allowed us to, for the first time ever, say, “Oh, wow, hey, you clicked on this email, let us now send you the second email.” That was a big deal at the time, right?

I think that, that allowed us to get a little bit better at how we targeted and how we personalized things. But it was only part of the story. In order to deliver a truly personalized experience or to really deliver a relevant recommendation, you have to know a lot more about what your buyer is doing. It can’t just be, hey, we know they clicked on this email, or we know they showed up on this webpage, or we know that they filled out this form. That doesn’t tell you a lot about the quality of that interaction. I think marketers mostly have been hamstrung by the quality of the data that they’ve had to this point. A lot of the data marketers have been using is very binary, it’s yes, they did or didn’t do the thing that I wanted them to do. They did click. They did fill out the form. They did visit the page. It’s less about was that interaction good.

And so, where marketers need to evolve to is did they spend meaningful time with my content? Did they read the thing? Did they watch the video? Did they consume lots of content? That’s where you’re going to start to understand, where is that buyer on the journey and how can I now deliver the next best thing? If all we know is that somebody clicked on something, it’s very hard to now make a recommendation about what to do next. I do think that it is just the evolution of the technology and the data set that is making it possible now to deliver an experience that’s better for the buyer.

How content is delivered to our audience needs to change

Nathan: How you deliver that content has to change then, if you’re going to be measuring their engagement with it, right? Watching the video or reading the eBook. I guess the eBook’s not downloaded anymore, they’re reading it on your website? Am I thinking about this right? How do you start collecting that data? You know, in the past I would just download a PDF and I may get to it or I might just leave it in my downloads folder.

Elle: That’s right. Yeah, and that’s the kind of experience that we’re trying to create for buyers on behalf of marketers, giving them new tools that allow them to deliver content in different ways, that not only allow them to collect that kind of data, to know how long someone is spending with content, but also deliver the kind of experiences that Netflix delivers, where you give the buyer more relevant content in the moment that they need it, rather than every time somebody clicks they get that one asset. To be able to deliver a series of recommended assets all wrapped up in a package where a buyer can move through as much of that as they want in that moment.

So it’s about rethinking the way the mechanisms we use for delivering content, moving away from that static landing page, locking things up behind a form, and really moving more toward these on-demand types of experiences that enable the buyer in the moment, wherever they choose to engage, to consume as much content as they want and also give the marketer the insight into what they buyer’s doing in that moment. That does break with the conventions that we’ve had for a long time of landing pages and static web pages and things like that. Absolutely.

How do you get buy-in on delivering an On-Demand B2B marketing? 

Nathan: I’m sure you’re going to be met with a lot of resistance with that. So how do you bridge that gap to where they fully buy on and how do they take small steps kind of taking this change of attitude, change of mindset?

Elle: Well, it’s all about a better experience for the buyer and to be honest with you, it’s met with less resistance than you think because at the end of the day, we need to make it easier for our buyers. We need to enable them to move through our buying process in a more frictionless manner. If we can do that, it benefits the business. Any way that we can do that is a gain for the marketers, a gain for the business. There are simple ways to achieve that. We’re talking about moving from a campaign philosophy that is, for every click I deliver a single asset, to, for every click I deliver a series of related recommended content. Most marketers would agree that that is a better way to enable our buyer. If that also delivers a whole bunch of additional insight back to marketing in terms of what that buyer is doing when they get there, it’s a pretty easy sell, to be honest with you.

It really is just about thinking about what buyer enablement means. What it means to really create an experience for your buyer that is easy, and personalized, and curated. I think that’s what everyone marketer is after. I think that when you go into B2B marketing, that’s what you’re trying to do. At the end of the day, we are trying to drive revenue, enable sales, and to do those things, it is about buyer enablement. That’s what we need to think of it in terms of. If we’re being true to that, we’ve got to find ways to create experiences for buyers that help them to self-educate, move through the process efficiently and be empowered to find and consume information in a way that that works for them.

Does On-Demand B2B content marketing change our MarTech needs?

Nathan: Is an add on to your technology stack, to be able to do this. Or does this replace any parts of your stack?

Elle: Our customers use PathFactory as a way to deliver experiences like this. It is, you know, becomes the foundation for their technology stack. It’s integrated with their marketing automation platform, but it becomes a deliver mechanism for all of their content. It’s the way that they deliver content. Really, we’re not … I like to think of it less as replacing things and more just, again, about the way that we’re trying to pick the buyer up wherever they’re engaging and making sure we’re delivering that experience that they expect, that on-demand experience that’s going to help to move them through whatever information they need to make a purchase decision.

Yes, they’re using content activation to do that, but really, the aim is enabling that buyer to get to where they’re trying to go, which ultimately is to make a decision, to make a purchase. If you think about it, I think marketers have believed … You know, there was this big swing in the direction of content marketing, 10, 15 years ago. Everybody was thinking like a publisher and creating tons of content and so we all did that. We created tons of content and we put it all out there. And so, I think no one believes that that’s not important, right? We all need to create lots of great content. But I think where we didn’t finish the swing was, how do we now make sure we surface the right content to the right buyer, at the right time? How do we put it in front of the right person when they need it? Just sticking it on your website, in your content hub or your resources center, putting it in your email nurture, putting it in all these places doesn’t necessarily enable your buyer to find it in the moments when they need it.

If we are to truly enable that buyer while they’re trying to make a decision, we need to find more ways to activate that content and get it in front of that buyer in the moment when they are looking for it. And that’s really what we’re trying to do to create a more on-demand experience for the buyer where at any time, at any moment where they engage, they’re met with an experience that’s really curated and customized for them and it’s going to deliver all the content that they need in that moment. And yeah, collect a lot of insight into how they’re engaging with that content as well, to inform what marketing can do in the future to deliver a better experience.

How can B2B marketers get started with on-demand content marketing?

Nathan: For those marketing shops that are not going to have the budget this year to add on new tech, any suggestions for taking first steps to get themselves ready for making this move? If not this year, then next year?

Elle: Absolutely. I think there’s things that we can all do better and I think it starts with relevancy. I think first and foremost, making sure that we’re not trying to apply a one size fits all strategy. My team has focused a lot over the past couple months on just right content for the right buyer at the right time, and I know that sounds so cliché, but it’s really critical. Is your content, even just the nuance of is it really tailored to the specific persona that you’re going after? You can’t have the same message for a C level executive that you’d have for a manager or a director. You can’t have the same message for someone who is just experiencing your brand for the first time and someone who is getting really deep into an evaluation cycle.

So, making sure that you have content at every stage of that journey for every one of those different personas is really important. We’ve started to create some tools to really look at the different themes that we’re interested in covering, the different buyer personas that we need to speak to and the different stages of the buyer’s journey that we need to make sure that we have coverage for and trying to understand where we have gaps and filling those gaps. If you can do that as a first step and really start to sort of map out that journey, that’s a really good place to begin so that at a point where you are ready to add or layer in some content activation, you’re really thinking of it in terms of the journey, in terms of those personas. It’s a really easy step to take to start getting some of those content recommendations activated.

How do you get sales aligned with on-demand B2B content marketing?

Nathan: One of the other big roadblocks out there can always be sales. How do you get sales on board with the idea of on-demand B2B marketing?

Elle: One of the things that we’ve done internally, we have this concept of a fast moving buyer. Obviously, we track how much time somebody spends with an individual piece of content. It could be an eBook, or a video, or a blog post, or a webpage. We track exactly how much time they spend with each individual asset. We track the path through the content that they take. As a demand gen marketer, I’ve been dealing with things like lead scores my entire career. There’s sort of a lot of dogma involved in a lead score. Marketing is telling sales, “Don’t worry, trust us,” like, “This is the best lead. We’ve given it an A or a 95,” or whatever the score is. And sales never quite understands why. What goes into making that score? What are you scoring it on?

I will say that they really understand the concept of time and so we created this fast moving buyer alert where once someone reaches a high threshold of time spent with content, we send an alert to our BDR and our account executives and they can see exactly what assets that person has consumed and how much time they spend with each individual asset, and it really neutralizes the conversation. Because, I’m not saying, “Trust me, this person did a bunch of great things.” I’m saying, “Here is exactly what they did and here’s how much time they spend doing these things and you can see what the high value assets were they consumed.” They get really excited about that ’cause they, oh, this person watched our explainer video for three minutes and I know it’s a three minute and 30 second video, so they watched most of it. And then, they went over here and they read these three blog posts and they spent five minutes and then they came over here and read this eBook for another five minutes. That person is showing some real intent, some real buying behavior.

So, instead of me saying, “Trust me, the did a bunch of stuff and it’s a good score because of that,” I can say, “Here’s some time that they’ve spent with content assets that’s telling me that there is some real buying behavior happening.” Sales tends to get on board with this very, very quickly. I don’t think it’s a particularly hard sell when you can demonstrate what time spent with content means in terms of actually buying behavior. And then, if you can then start to track the impact that that has down the funnel, you start to show, hey, people who spend this much time with content tend to convert at this rate, turn into meetings at this rate, turn into revenue at this rate. It’s pretty easy to show them that that’s a winning equation.

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